What do you get when you combine divine architecture, art, Etruscan Tombs, breath-taking landscapes, food and wine? You get the ultimate dream destination – this is how I describe the Italian region called Tuscany.
Italy is one of the world’s most important wine producers. In fact, Italy is number one in wine production beating out France and Spain. It is the nestling ground to some of the best wines that the world’s palates have ever tasted. And of all of Italy’s premier wine makers, Tuscany is probably the home to best known wine regions: Chianti, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, and Brunello di Montalcino. These are the regions that produce some of the best wines that are being sold worldwide. Tuscany’ wine production is rich in tradition, and they use that advantage to stay on top of newer rising international wine varieties that yearn to take that number one spot.
According to history, wild grape vines were already abundantly growing in the hills and land of Tuscany, even before the Etruscans had settled in the region. It is said they grew and cultivated of what appears to be the most famous grape varietal in the history of Tuscan wines, Sangiovese (as well as Lambrusco). Wine making in Tuscany certainly has changed throughout the years, but the main grapes and wine making traditions run strong.
What makes Tuscany such a great region for growing wine grapes? One reason is that Tuscany’s soil is poorer as compared to other regions. You may think this is bad, but it is the complete opposite. Crappy soil makes it so the roots of the grape vines have to grow deep into the earth, and down there is where they get their complexity.
There is more than just Sangiovese in Tuscany. Cabernet Sauvignon, a French varietal, has been grown in the hills of Tuscany for over hundreds of years, but bloomed late in the season, when the Super Tuscans began to be produced and sold worldwide. These are regional wines, which have a special distinct quality, something that can be recognized by the international palate. Since the 70’s, notable, expensive wines (exceeds the limits of the Italian wine classification system) were then called Super Tuscans.
But enough about the dorky, boring aspects of wine. You’re heading there to taste some, so let’s get to the down and dirty of how to get some great visits in the region, where to stay, and what else to do:
TIPS FOR YOUR TUSCANY WINE REGION TRAVEL
- When to Visit: You can visit any time, but if you go during Sept/Oct, that’s harvest season and some wineries will let you work the harvest.
- Driving: Stay in the middle lane. Italian drivers are aggressive and will ride up on your car if they feel you aren’t driving fast enough.
- Bring someone who drives stick: Most cars in Italy are stick, an automatic rental will wipe out your funds, so make sure you either drive stick or have someone with you who does.
- Benzinai: That’ the gas station. Pump your own gas, or you will pay extra for it.
- ZLT Zones: Many of the hill towns (like Cortona) will have car free areas. If you get in there by mistake you’ll pay HUGE fines. So be aware of signs.
- Make reservations: Most wineries here are either family owned or small. They don’t really have the staffing for a random visit, so I recommend you make reservations prior to going, especially in the fall when it is harvest time.
- Do one winery per day: Don’t stack up. First of all, you don’t want to drink and drive. On top of that, Italian roads are usually snaky and tend to go up and down hills. Getting lost is easy and you don’t want to be late and miss out.Space things out and stay safe.
- Buy a bottle or two: Especially at the smaller wineries. Wine making is a tough business. Just think of it, the grapes vines need years to grow, the grapes need to be harvested, the wine needs to be made, then it needs to be aged (in Chianti for a minimum of two years). Then there is climate and boars to worry about. While it is not mandatory that you purchase at the wineries, it certainly helps there families and farmers survive.
WHERE TO STAY IN TUSCANY
You can stay anywhere you want, but I like to stay in one of the “main” cities and do day trips to the wineries. Most of the wine making areas are about two hours from Florence or Siena. It’s almost required that you have a car. You can either do a day trip, or book a hotel in the area for the night. Buses and trains are an option (but they really aren’t).
PRO TIP: Make sure someone drives stick in your group. Most rental cars in Italy are stick and when you get lucky enough to have an automatic available, they are super expensive.
What cities should you stay in? Here’s a few we loved:
You got the Uffizi, tons of churches, restaurants, the Calcio Storico, and so much more. I’ve made this home base twice and loved it. I usually stay at the Palazzo Corsini al Prato which has lodgings available on Airbnb for very affordable prices. The flat that is rentable is part of a huge property that just feels like a storybook tale. While you’re there make sure to check out the Mercato Centrale di Firenze, it’s a combination market and food hall where you can delight your palate.
Great tiny hill city with lots of history. Just remember that it is quite popular during the Palio (which I am not so fond of), so if you go off season, you’ll save tons.
Did you see the movie Under The Tuscan Sun? It was filmed in Cortona. This city is so easy to fall in love with (and the food is spectacular). Stay at Casa Chilenne, Jeanette who runs it will make sure you have an incredible visit.
If you’re going to wine country, why not stay in the middle of things. Besides, if you stay here…you don’t have to go to the wineries, there are plenty of tasting rooms and incredible restaurants like La Grotta.
WINERIES TO VISIT
Barone Ricasoli was one of our favorites. Their experience is based on the history of the family and most importantly their history with Chianti and Sangiovese. We got to see the museum, gardens, the chapel (and we pulled some strings to see the vineyards). The tour ends with a wine tasting. The tour takes all of about 2 hours and costs €25 per person. Their restaurant, Osteria Del Castelo, located not too far away is outstanding. We ended up going twice when we were in the region.
Barone Ricasoli is located at Madonna a Brolio, Gaiole in Chianti Province of Siena, Italy
Hours of Operation: Daily 10:30am (Monday and Thursdays the winery is only open at 3pm Mon, Thu, and Fri from March-June). Make reservations prior to arriving.
Le Miccine is a ground breaking winery in Tuscany. It’s winemaker, Paula Papini Cook is not only a woman, she is also young and comes from Canada.
Le Miccine is located at Località Le Miccine, 44, SP2, 53013 Gaiole In Chianti Province of Siena
Fontodi is one of the Tuscany wine region’s iconic wineries. The Manetti family has been at the helm since the late 1960’s.
Fontodi is located at Panzano in Chianti, Greve in Chianti,Italy
What do you get when you combine the wine making techniques of Bordeaux with the soil and climate of Tuscany? You get San Felice. Their wine maker, Leonardo Bellaccini studied in Italy, but perfected his craft in France’s most coveted region. He even received accolades from the Consorzio del Chianti Classico. These wines are worth the visit.
San Felice is located at Località S. Felice, 53019 Castelnuovo Berardenga SI, Italy
Monsanto means quality in Chianti. The winery began in 1962 when Fabrizio Bianchi received the winery from his parents as a wedding present. Fabrizio and Laura, his daughter work the vineyard together to produce some incredible wines. You can sign up for a tour. They usually take 1:30 minutes and include information on the region, wines, and wine making techniques. You can also book a vertical tasting – well worth the money.
Castello di Monsanto is located at Via Monsanto, 8 – 50021 Barberino Val D’Elsa
Colle Bereto’s wines really show off the terroir their grapes grow on.
Colle Bereto is located at Localita’ Colle Bereto, Radda In Chianti